Theresa May announces major shake-up of fire service
Fire brigades will be told to cut costs as part of a major shake-up of the way they are run after Theresa May announced she was taking over responsibility for the service.
The Home Secretary, who pushed through controversial policing reforms, said she was "determined" to improve efficiency in fire and rescue services.
Fire services have poor procurement, IT systems and buildings management, Mrs May said and indicated she p lans to introduce an independent inspectorate as well as order routine performance data to be published.
It comes as the government prepares to give police and crime commissioners responsibilities for fire and rescue authorities where a case is made locally following a consultation earlier this year.
All three emergency services will also be forced to look at ways to work together to improve efficiency, including through sharing administration systems to cut costs.
Mrs May s aid: "I look at the fire and rescue service and I see the need for many of the same reforms that I started in policing five years ago.
"Better local accountability, more transparency and a relentless focus on efficiency.
"So, while I continue to finish the job of reform in policing, I am also determined to properly kick start the job of reform in fire.
"We've already set out its proposals to allow PCCs to take over fire and rescue authorities - this will provide direct, democratic accountability in fire as we now have in policing.
"We need to go further still though. I am struck by the fact the fire and rescue service doesn't have an independent inspectorate and does not routinely publish data on performance.
"Local people need these things to hold their local public services to account.
"And from my experience fire has the same problems as policing in terms of poor procurement, ICT and management of buildings.
"I'd like to bring the same collaborative approach we're seeing in policing to fire services too.
"But, at the same time, I think fire and rescue services have things to teach the police too.
"The extraordinary success of fire-fighters preventative work has hugely reduce the number of fires and saved countless lives.
"I want to police to focus on prevention to achieve the same results in regard to crime."
But the Fire Brigades Union has criticised the plans for police and crime commissioners (PCCs) to take over fire authorities.
"Enabling PCCs to govern fire and rescue services will neither deliver economic, efficient or effective emergency services not optimise public safety," the union said in a pamphlet on its website.
"On the contrary, these proposals threaten to damage the well-earned trust of the public in firefighters, hamper innovation and will lead to the fragmentation of emergency services delivery across the UK."
PCCs "do not bring any skills or exeprtise" to the service and some have an "unfortunate record for ill-judged interference in operational matters", it added.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, accused PCCs who supported the move of "empire-building".
He told BBC News: "There are one or two police and crime commissioners pushing this agenda and, to be frank, that's empire-building for certain people.
"The police and crime commissioners, let's be clear, were elected on one of the worst electoral turnouts in British history, with about 15% of the population voting for them.
"The fire service is a local government service by and large across the UK and so it might be that it is a better collaboration with local authorities, with county councils and so on.
"Back office can mean a whole range of things - for example, human resources - actually many of the policies which firefighters are dealing with are exactly the same already as existing county councils.
"What might be created is more cost by the proposal we have got in front of us."
Kevin Hurley, the elected Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey, conceded it was not the ideal solution but urged fire chiefs to work within the system to make the best of limited resources.
"In an ideal world I would like to reduce from 46 fire services and 43 police forces to rationalise the back office functions of all of them and ideally we would keep them separate," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
"But there is no appetite to do that at the moment so we need to look at ways of how we can get more out of the public's money to keep them safe."
He added: "I don't want to take over the fire brigade on some kind of power trip; I want to do it to bring them closer together so that we deliver better for the public safety.
"There is far less money around. We need to move forward from what some might call a Luddite approach and see how both the services can work more closely together to be more helpful in protecting the public.
"Up until the Second World War many of the fire brigades up and down the country were provided by the police, so this is nothing new."
He told the FBU: "When I stopped being a fireman and became a policeman, they made us learn how to stop a runaway horse.
"They said 'When a runaway horse is coming towards you, don't stand in front of it; stand to one side and divert it to a place of safety'.
"Government are going to do this. We would be wise to work together to see how we can make the best of this in the public interest."